Friday, April 22, 2011

Assassin's Creed II - Story

As I started writing out this blog post on my impressions of Assassin's Creed II, it became clear that one post wasn't going to be enough.  So I've decided to break it up into a few parts.  For today, I will be discussing Assassin's Creed II's story.

Before reading my game analysis on Assassin's Creed II's story, you should read my general disclaimer

Good?  Okay, let's begin.

After sitting on my shelf in the plastic for over a year I finally finished Assassin's Creed II.  I guess "finished" might not be the correct word since I still have a couple achievements to complete, but I have played through the story, found all the hidden messages left in the animus by Subject 16, unlocked the vault and uncovered the prophecy.

I found Assassin's Creed II to be a much more story driven game than the previous Assassin's Creed. The story was much more engaging this time around as I found the game constantly urging me to move forward to the next mission.  There was always a sense of urgency with every mission, that I had to go right away and that there wasn't any time to waste. This was both good and bad in my opinion. 

Having an engaging story is certainly ideal.  An engaged player is a player who's going to play through your entire game and see all the things you worked so hard for them to see.  It also get's them invested in your world so they'll buy your DLC and play your sequels.  This is especially important in today's market as there are so many games vying for the attention of your player.  However, my one problem with the story perhaps is really a pacing issue.  The constant sense of urgency made side missions more obvious that they were just side missions.

With the first Assassin's Creed each assassination had two very clear phases, investigation and execution.  During the investigation phase you could do all or just a few of the side missions and then move on to the execution phase.  The side missions were also tied into the idea of investigating the assassination target.  This made the side missions feel like they were a part of the story.

In Assassin's Creed II this wasn't the case.  Gone was the idea of investigating a target before moving on to execution.  The story constantly pushes the player forward on to the next objective.  For a player only concerned with the story and not necessarily completing all of the side missions, this was probably not a problem.  I am not one of those players.  I found that I had to pull myself away from the main plot in order to not have all of the the side missions pile up.  This touches on a problem I have with a lot of games that seek to give the player more things to do and collect outside of the main story line.  When the side missions or collecting become obvious to the player it becomes obvious to the player that their actions are no longer those of the character in the game, they are of a player playing a game.  Ezio as a character would not, after hearing that Antonio needs to see him, run off to try to beat the track time of a random thief.

I think the team at Ubisoft made this change to the story's pacing in response to some of the criticisms the first game had with the investigation phase of the missions.  A lot of negative attention was paid to Assassin's Creed's repetitive side missions.  While I can certainly understand where the criticism comes from, I think something was lost by stripping out the investigation phases of the game.

Another aspect of Assassin's Creed II that I think suffered with the change in story pacing was the idea of planning out you assassinations.  In the first Assassin's Creed completing the side missions would gain you information about guard placement, patrol patterns and other possibly useful information about the target and the area surrounding the target.  This information could be used to plan out your method of attack.  This planning aspect helped to make the player feel like they were playing the part of an expert assassin.  Someone who would use this information to find the path of the least resistance to their target, execute them and then leave without anyone knowing they had been there.  Perhaps this part was intentional, since Ezio, for most of the game's story was not an expert.  He was an assassin in training whose methods may have been a lot cruder than the expert Altair.  However, it did seem that the game thought that planning would still be something player would do with some of the loading screen tips.

You can't really talk about the story in an Assassin's Creed game without talking about the near future world of Desmond.  The higher level story of Desmond made some subtle changes which I think hurt the consistency and logic of the world.  In the first Assassin's Creed we are introduced to the idea of the animus and it's ability to allow people to relive the memories of their ancestors.  We are presented with the idea of synchronization and that Desmond can remember things not exactly as they happened and that if he becomes too out of synch with the memory he must relive the memory again.  The motivation behind this is to explain within the world the game elements within the world.  It was a bit of a stretch, but it worked okay.  The changes to how the animus worked in this game stretched the willing suspense of disbelief a little bit more.

The thing that I think hurt the believability of the animus the most was the hidden glyphs left behind by Subject 16.  Throughout the game the player is tasked with finding these hidden glyphs that are placed on landmarks throughout Italy.  Desmond is tasked with finding these to unlock the hidden message left by Subject 16.  This, however, doesn't make any sense within the context of the world.  Desmond is supposed to be only reliving the memories of his ancestor.  He is not supposed to be an active agent in these memories.  So Desmond can't really do anything that his ancestor Ezio didn't do.  So if Ezio didn't go up to the top of some building and stare at the wall for no descernible reason, there should be no way that Desmond could find these.  They could've explained this away by making it that these places are all places Ezio ends up for whatever reason and they were hidden in those places for a reason.  Instead, they made it clear that Desmond had to find them himself by the dialogue with the other characters.

I think this is part poor dialogue choice and part Ubisoft painting themselves into a corner.  They've committed to this idea of the animus as an excuse to explain the game elements in the world.  As the world expands and they add new game mechanics, they are going to find it increasingly difficult to explain them in a way that keeps the story consistent and logical.

Well, that's my take on the story of Assassin's Creed II and how it changed from the first game.  Next time I'll start to discuss more of the game mechanics and what can be learned from that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Week Long Game-a-thon!! - Wrap Up

My "Week Long Game-a-thon!!" has come and gone and now it's time to wrap things up.  So how did I do?  Not as well as I had hoped.  I was off for an entire week and managed to get most of the way through 1 game, Assassin's Creed II.  Not exactly the epic playing of games I had anticipated when the week had started, but at the very least, I was able to knock off a good portion of a game that had been in my back log of games to play and finish.

I did end up finishing Assassin's Creed II this past weekend, so I will make a post discussing that game in the near future.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Week Long Game-a-thon!! - Update

So it's Friday of my "Week Long Game-a-thon!!" and I'm still working on Assassin's Creed II, and it's not for lack of trying.  I've put in a solid 8+ hours a day on that game since Monday and I'm still only about 2/3rds of the way done.  I guess I overestimated how much gaming I could get done in a week and underestimated my compulsion to complete every single thing possible before moving on to the next part of the game.

So far, I'm really enjoying it but I'll post my final thoughts on the game once I'm done.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Week Long Game-a-thon!!

So since I’m out of work for a at least a week, I thought I would spend some time catching up on games I haven’t had a chance to play. To kick things off I’m going to be playing Assassin’s Creed II for the Xbox 360. This should be interesting since I just finished playing the first Assassin’s Creed game a little over a month ago and it will be fresh in my mind. It should make for some interesting observations of what things the team changed in the sequel. Anyway, time to get playing. I’ll keep you all posted.

A Fresh Start

Hello everybody.  I'm Jason Wilson.  I'm a game designer from Ontario Canada.  This week is a week of new beginnings for me.  Last week I was employed as a Game Designer at Tecmo Koei Canada.  This week, that's no longer the case.  I won't get into the details of what exactly happened, but suffice it to say I am temporarily unemployed.  I've also moved into a new apartment, but that's not quite as exciting.

Some of you may be wondering, "Wasn't there a blog here before and where did all the posts go?"  Well, in the spirit of new beginnings I've decided to wipe the slate clean.  My previous blog was a bit neglected.  I had high hopes of posting to it regularly, but it didn't turn out.  So now the blog is getting a gritty reboot.

What can you expect from this new blog?  Well, I plan to still discuss gaming in all forms whether it be video games, board games, card games, TV game shows, or anything else I think relates to the topic of gaming.  I will undoubtedly go off on ridiculous tangents and not always stay on topic, but what blogger doesn't?

So come along for the ride and we'll see where this blog takes us.